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The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare's History Plays


  • 6 b/w illus.
  • Page extent: 222 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.27 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521671200)

Shakespeare's history plays, as fresh today as when they were written, are based upon the assumption that time is not simply a destroyer but a preserver, and that 'examples past' might enable us to understand the present and anticipate the future. This lively 2007 study examines the continuing tradition of Shakespeare's history plays in stage and film productions as well as giving an account of the critical debate on these plays. Following two introductory chapters giving essential background on the genre, the English history plays are discussed in turn, bringing out the distinctive characteristics of each play: the three early Henry VI plays; the perennial stage favourite Richard III; King John; Richard II; Henry IV 1 and 2, famous for the character of Falstaff; Henry V, which is treated very differently in the film versions by Olivier and Branagh; and Henry VIII. An invaluable introduction to these fascinating and complex plays.

• Comprehensive coverage of all nine of Shakespeare's history plays, with separate chapters dedicated to individual plays • Full treatment of the theatrical and cinematic history of each play • Written in a clear, accessible and engaging style


1. The uses of history; 2. The wars of the critics; 3. The paper crown: 1, 2, and 3 Henry VI; 4. Determined to be a villain: Richard III; 5. Gain, be my lord: King John; 6. The death of kings: Richard II; 7. Lord of misrule: 1 and 2 Henry IV; 8. Band of brothers: Henry V; 9. Epilogue: Henry VIII; Bibliography.


'Fresh but informed, Chernaik's study will please both students and those who think they know more. The author brings characters alive in intelligent ways, deftly conjures memories of productions and films he has seen, and is particularly good at encapsulating competing critical accounts of these texts in a few pithy words … a focussed but also panoramic reading of Shakespeare's history plays.' Michael Hattaway, University of Sheffield

'[The Cambridge Introduction to] Shakespeare's History Plays is an exemplary addition to the Cambridge series. It is well informed, and well written. It is generous in its communication of facts and interpretations, arguing a healthy case not for a single view of the plays but for multiple perspectives and approaches.' Cahiers Élisabéthains

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